Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, good afternoon.
I'm pleased to appear today before this committee for the first time since the beginning of this Parliament. Although I'm not sure how many more discussions we will have before my term as commissioner comes to an end in October, I'm honoured to have been welcomed so frequently by your committee and to have had such productive exchanges with you.
I would be remiss if I did not say a few words about Mauril Bélanger's enormous contribution to official languages, both as a member of Parliament and as a minister. He has always been an invaluable source of support and guidance.
This afternoon, I would like to talk to you about measures to improve access to justice in both official languages, an audit of the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat conducted by my office, and the work I plan to complete between now and the end of my mandate. We will also have an opportunity to discuss the main estimates, which were tabled not long ago.
With regard to the interest you expressed concerning the selection of the next commissioner, I have discussed the choice of my successor with both the former and current Clerk of the Privy Council Office and have provided them with a list of six criteria that I believe could guide their choice: competence, comfort and eloquence in both official languages; ability to articulate a vision of linguistic duality; independence, essential for any agent of Parliament; high ethical standards and a value of respect; comfort as a public figure; credibility based on prior experience with the issue of official languages, in terms of knowledge of the act, knowledge of linguistic minority communities, or knowledge of Parliament.
On reflection, I would add to that list the importance of being what a former colleague of mine called “a digital native”: someone who is comfortable dealing with the new challenges of social media and the Web 2.0 world and their implications for language policy.
Based on my conversations with the Privy Council Office, the process of developing selection criteria does not seem to be completed. If your committee believes that other criteria would be more appropriate, there's still time to share that information with Mr. Wernick.
Acces to justice in both official languages is one of the issues my successor will have to address. The year 2017 will mark 150 years of legislative and judicial bilingualism in Canada.
Too often, Canadians who seek justice in the nation's superior courts in the official language of the minority still have to plead their cases in the language of the majority, or incur additional costs and delays if they want to be heard by a bilingual judge. This is due in part to the bilingual capacity of the superior court judiciary, which continues to be a challenge in several provinces and territories.
This is why in August 2013 I published a study called “Access to Justice in Both Official Languages: Improving the Bilingual Capacity of the Superior Court Judiciary”.
The study, conducted jointly with my counterparts in Ontario and New Brunswick, found that the process for appointing judges to superior courts did not guarantee a sufficient number of judges with the language skills required to hear Canadians in the official language of the minority without delays or additional costs.
I therefore made 10 recommendations to address the situation. I also stressed the importance of establishing a collaborative approach involving Canada's , the minister's provincial and territorial counterparts, and the chief justices of the superior courts.
The Canadian Bar Association supported this study by adopting a resolution in February 2014 in which it urged the federal to implement the recommendations of the study in co-operation with the provincial and territorial ministers and the chief justices of Canada's superior courts and appeal courts.
In 2015, then federal Minister of Justice Peter MacKay replied that he did not see the need to change the current process and initiated no discussions with his counterparts, despite the interest expressed by some of those counterparts, particularly those in Ontario and New Brunswick.
Indeed, some interesting initiatives have been undertaken in both of those provinces. In the spring of 2015, Madeleine Meilleur, Ontario's Attorney General and Minister responsible for Francophone Affairs, launched a pilot project to enhance access to justice in French.
The objective of the pilot, which focuses on an active offer of service, is to provide quality French language services to French-speaking litigants and lawyers at the Ottawa courthouse.
The minister also wrote to my office in 2015 and said she would support any measure the federal took with respect to appointing bilingual judges.
In New Brunswick, provincial court judge Yvette Finn has been running a popular language training program since 2011 for provincially appointed judges from across Canada. I will meet with the current federal soon to discuss the study and other collaborative opportunities that could be undertaken with Minister Meilleur.
I will also ask the to implement the recommendations contained in the study report.
I am hoping that the government will also implement the three recommendations contained in my office's January 2015 Audit of the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat within the context of the 2011-2012 Strategic and Operating Review. These recommendations focus on ensuring that the shortcomings found in the audit are not repeated in future expenditure reviews.
As a federal institution, the Treasury Board Secretariat must implement part VII of the act when carrying out its mandate. It is required to support federal institutions by providing clear instructions on what measures to take to meet their obligations fully and to avoid hindering the vitality of official languages minority communities during budget cuts.
The audit results are available on my office's website.
After 10 years as commissioner, I'm sure many of you expect me to provide an overview of the status of official languages in Canada. To that end, I intend to publish a series of key documents between now and the end of my mandate. These include my annual report, which will be released on May 19, along with new report cards for 33 federal institutions; an overview of how I've exercised my role before the courts; a study on active offer to the public by federal institutions; a study on early childhood development in French-speaking minority communities; the results of a public opinion poll on what Canadians think about various issues related to official languages; and a follow-up to my 2012 audit of Parks Canada.
In June I will table a special report to Parliament to propose options aimed at reinforcing the implementation regime applicable to Air Canada.
A number of other issues will continue to be a priority until this fall, including the jurisdictional conflicts between my office and CBC/Radio-Canada, and planning for the next iteration of the official languages roadmap. My office will also be monitoring Bill concerning the bilingual capacity of judges appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada, and Bill regarding part IV of the Official Languages Act.
On a final note, in addition to planning our own activities to celebrate Canada's birthday next year, my office is working with various federal institutions to encourage them to include and promote official languages during the celebrations commemorating the 150th anniversary of Confederation. In that context, we published a brochure for the organizers of the 2017 celebrations.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'd be pleased to answer any questions you or your colleagues may have.
That is a very good question. I will begin with the last part.
We already launched legal proceedings in the CBEF Windsor case. This occurred nine and a half years ago, between the time my name was announced as candidate for this position and the moment when I took up my duties. Oh, no, I'm sorry, I am mistaken about the timing of that announcement; it was later.
We had received more than 800 complaints. We went before the courts to say that CBC/Radio-Canada had obligations under part VII of the Official Languages Act, particularly that of taking proactive measures to support the development of minority official language communities. Justice Martineau of the Federal Court accepted our arguments, but the case was rejected on appeal by the Federal Court of Appeal. So we were back to square one.
CBC/Radio-Canada does not accept our point that we have jurisdiction in this matter. I have always stopped short of saying that we intervened against CBC/Radio-Canada, because I think it plays an extraordinary role in supporting the vitality of minority communities. However, at a certain point, I would like to know if I have jurisdiction or not. In the meantime, we are holding informal discussions with CBC/Radio-Canada to see if there is a way of negotiating a memorandum of understanding to deal with the complaints we received. I am mentioning all of this to show that the role CBC/Radio-Canada plays in the vitality of communities is extremely important.
When I lived in Quebec, I was very appreciative of the Quebec Community Groups Network, which served and continues to serve the anglophone communities scattered on the vast territory of Quebec. I also had great appreciation for the role played by the people of CBC/Radio-Canada in the regions, not only as broadcasters and announcers, but also as social facilitators. I dare hope that the concern relating to minority communities will be at the heart of CBC/Radio-Canada's concerns when it makes decisions about how to use that money.
As for the new technological age, that is a double-edged sword. It is something I mentioned in the letter to my successor which I published in the annual report. The technological tools are very individualistic. They make up a linguistic network, but do not necessarily create linguistic spaces. In official language minority communities, the population is often aging and does not always have the same access to high speed Internet as to younger urban populations. So it is important to always recognize the real needs of minority communities when you are setting up technological tools.
I already spoke about the lawsuit we brought about this. We have been having discussions to try to agree on a memorandum of understanding allowing us to investigate complaints. I have always said that I was not interested in intervening in matters of programming pure and simple. When I was a journalist, I did not want to manage a newsroom, and I absolutely do not want to do so as Commissioner of Official Languages. I want to make that distinction clear, one which may not always be entirely believed or understood by CBC/Radio-Canada.
I think one of the positive impacts of our legal proceedings has been to remind Radio-Canada of the importance of holding consultations in the communities before they make changes. There is no doubt that there is a certain “Toronto-centrism” in Toronto and a “Montreal-centrism” in Montreal.
For instance, when members of the RCMP were murdered in Moncton, there was a crisis. And yet RDI did not interrupt its coverage of the Charbonneau Commission to cover these events. Complaints were not submitted to our office, but to the CBC/Radio-Canada ombudsman. This is the type of journalistic and programming decision where the CBC/Radio-Canada ombudsman does indeed have a very important role to play.
However, after there were radical cuts made to all of Windsor's local programming, I received some 860 complaints. This was not a journalistic decision, but an administrative one. When CBC/Radio-Canada did not recognize my jurisdiction, that was the type of situation where I felt I had an obligation to litigate, and that is what I did.
All this to say that in the face of these pressures and the complaints from minority communities, one becomes more and more aware of the issues. For instance, RDI recently broadcast a special two-hour program from Moncton where people from francophone minority communities throughout Canada got to speak. My provincial colleagues, such as Ms. d'Entremont from New Brunswick and Mr. Boileau from Ontario, and I, had the opportunity to take part in this program. Of course, there is more awareness than there used to be, but it is long-term work to really raise people's awareness as to the reality of the francophone minority from one end of the country to the other.
I think there are two or three important points to consider.
In 2018, it will be 30 years since the Official Languages Act was reviewed or amended in any significant way. In 2019, it will have been in effect for 50 years; it has been in effect since 1969. It may thus be time, for my successor and the government, to review the act, given that in 1969, the Internet had not even been thought of. All data was recorded on paper. Even when I was appointed, Facebook and Twitter had just been invented. They were not tools the government used to function and communicate. In 2017, we will not only be celebrating the 150th anniversary of Confederation, but also that of bijuralism in our country. There will be a conference, in March I believe, which we are jointly organizing with the Canadian Bar Association, and which will mark the introduction of our two legal systems in Canada, the civil law and common law.
And then there are all the impacts of the technological era to consider; there is no set time frame for that turning point. There is no point at which we will be able to say it is over, that the change has been made and that we are now living in a new era. Things evolve month to month. Even when I was a journalist—I changed professions 10 years ago—I noticed that every time a commission of inquiry on telecommunications was held by the government, the changes that were suggested became obsolete before the recommendations were even drafted or published.
I see that the technological changes are happening so quickly that we cannot even imagine a day when we will have arrived at some digital Eden, nor believe that that day will ever come. We are living in a time of constant change. We have to ask ourselves how that change can be used to foster official language minority communities in Canada, rather than diminishing or marginalizing them.
I will start with the second question.
The federal government has often offered technological tools to the public. I am thinking for instance of Termium, a sort of dictionary which was developed by the federal government. For a long time, its access was limited to federal government users. But at the beginning of my mandate, eight or nine years ago, the government decided to give the population access to this tool. It felt that it would not cost any more to do that and that it did not contain any confidential data. And so an ordinary citizen, a student or a private sector translator can now have access to all of the terms it contains.
There have been other examples, rather unfortunate in my opinion, where the government has insisted that some of its tools remain within government. For instance, when Edmonton Public Schools wanted to assess immersion students, there was a pilot project that used the federal assessment system. After a change of speaker, Edmonton Public Schools were told that they could no longer use it, as its use was limited to public servants. And so Edmonton Public Schools now uses a system from France. I think that was a missed opportunity.
I know a series of teaching tools were developed by the Canada School of Public Service in the context of their learning plans. It is entirely reasonable to consider making those tools accessible to other Canadians. Is it a good use of resources to limit their access to public servants? Since Canadians paid for their creation, should they not have access to those tools?
As for the unilingual speaker, the Official Languages Act does not apply to parliamentarians. So I have no jurisdiction in this regard. However, I must say that I have always thought that bilingualism was an essential asset for leadership in public life. That is all I am going to say about that.
Mr. Fraser, I am going to ask my questions and you can try to answer them as best you can.
My first question is about your audit of the Treasury Board Secretariat.
Earlier we spoke about vacant positions that were advertised and the fact that bilingualism was no longer mentioned. As the FCFA pointed out, among other things, there is no central authority to ensure that the Official Languages Act is correctly applied. For instance, your audit of the Treasury Board Secretariat revealed that there was no enforcement of the Official Languages Act. The FCFA suggests that there be a central authority.
The title of the minister no longer even mentions official languages. She said that she also had to take indigenous languages into consideration. They could have added “indigenous languages” rather than removing “official languages”.
Should there not be a central authority that monitors compliance with the Official Languages Act within all departments and organizations?
I will conclude by speaking about the Translation Bureau, about which you said a few words. In reply to a question on the Order Paper, Q-53, Ms. Judy Foote said to me that people had worked on this dossier, “including the Commissioner of Official Languages with whom the Translation Bureau worked to develop the tool”.
Could you rapidly respond to those two points?
I will begin with your second question. No, the office of the Commissioner of Official Languages did not work on that tool. We answered that like other sectors of the public service, we would be willing to use that tool when it was implemented.
It is true that we were asked to assess the tool. We replied that it would be inappropriate for us to do such an evaluation, because the office of the commissioner must preserve its independence in case it were to receive complaints about the tool.
As for the central authority, two measures were taken even before my arrival at the office. First, the responsibility of the Privy Council regarding official languages was transferred to Canadian Heritage, following a decentralization. Second, the Committee of Deputy Ministers responsible for Official Languages was changed and became the Committee of Assistant Deputy Ministers responsible for Official Languages, and they were given the possibility of delegating a substitute, such as a director or assistant director. Previously, the deputy ministers who were members of the committee could not be replaced by a substitute. Because of that, the committee lost some of its moral authority.
My reaction to the transfer of the responsibility for coordinating official languages from the Privy Council Office to Canadian Heritage comes from the fact that people generally will follow up more quickly on advice that comes from the office of their superior, rather than from a colleague in the next office. We have to be realistic. I also think that a committee made up exclusively of deputy ministers confers more importance to official languages than a committee made up of assistant deputy ministers who can be replaced by an underling.
I will give you a preliminary overview, and then I will ask the others to add more details.
For the Atlantic region, we have an office in Moncton. We also have offices in Montreal and Toronto. We have a satellite office in Sudbury, that is to say a person who does liaison. We have an office in Winnipeg and another in Edmonton, as well as a satellite office in Regina. We also have a satellite office in Vancouver, although that one has not been active for a certain number of years.
There are about 20 people in the offices throughout the country. This represents approximately $1.9 million for the regional offices, or 8.2% of our budget.
Since the beginning of my mandate, we have made some changes to the vocation of these offices. Following her assessment of the risk of conflicts of interest and the appearance of conflicts of interest, Dyane Adam had decided that the regional investigation staff who live in the communities should not investigate complaints about institutions in those regions, because this could bring about the perception of a conflict of interest.
When we reviewed the A-base funding, we examined the purpose of our offices, and then Ms. Saikaley reorganized her branch. She asked an interesting question: if investigators in the regions do not investigate in the regions, why are they in the regions? And so we did a reorganization. With one exception, the regional investigators who did not want to come to Ottawa stayed with the Compliance Assurance Branch and became liaison agents. We made an exception for one analyst who does very high quality investigations. He is highly experienced and we are willing to accommodate him in order not to lose him.
Following this change of vocation, the regional offices deal only with communication activities, promotion and liaison with federal institutions. For instance, these offices organize tours in schools and have contacts with the communities. They report to the Policy and Communications Branch and they conduct promotional activities.
I play an influential role. Although we can make recommendations to federal institutions through our investigations, reports and studies, as well as through my speeches and appearances before your committee, those are just recommendations. In that sense, my role is similar to that of an ambassador. In a way, I am the ambassador of linguistic duality.
However, one of the important tools we have is the power to intervene before the courts if an institution is hostile, does not accept our interventions and rejects our authority. We also have the power to support Canadians who are taking court action. One of the major decisions of the Supreme Court was the DesRochers decision. Mr. DesRochers could not have gone as far as the Supreme Court without us becoming his co-appellants. The power to intervene in court is a fairly important tool.
Moreover, I don't know whether this can be considered a tool, but I give about 50 speeches per year; I travel from coast to coast to coast and meet with representatives of community associations, universities, as well as primary and secondary schools. I have met with provincial premiers and their ministers. That is a promotional activity I take very seriously.
I was probably a bit naive during my appearance before the committee when I was applying for the position of commissioner of official languages. I said that I saw something of a virtuous cycle and that, by promoting both official languages properly, we could encourage certain institutions to improve their compliance with the law, which would lead to a drop in the number of complaints. However, I have found that, when I promote the cause properly, people become more aware of their language rights and submit more complaints. In a way, that is collateral damage.
The challenges for Air Canada have been partly.... Their enthusiasm, shall we say, has been muted somewhat.
I talked to the president of Air Canada and told him that we would be making a special report. He reiterated his position that they feel it is unfair that they have obligations that other private carriers do not have in Canada. He feels that Air Canada is the most bilingual private company in Canada and that we do not give sufficient recognition to this.
I think there are other private corporations—I am thinking of Bell Canada, for example—that are exemplary in their use of both official languages. We have previously recognized Rogers as also being exemplary in its service to Canadians in both official languages, so I wouldn't necessarily accept his claim that Air Canada is the most bilingual private corporation.
One of the things I have noted is that sometimes the best intentions of the executives of Air Canada do not get translated down to the employees.
We did an audit of services to the public in 2010-2011, just after the Olympics, and in the preparation for the Olympics, Air Canada did extremely well in ensuring that all travellers to Vancouver would be served in both official languages, as did the 17 other federal institutions that had any contact with the Vancouver Olympics.
However, in the interviews we did for our audit, we discovered that employees were under the impression that this extra effort that Air Canada made was just for the Olympics. Rather than there being a ratcheted effect of Air Canada managing to up its performance and then maintaining that performance at cruising speed and cruising level, the employees all felt, “Well, that was just a special deal for the Olympics, and we'll go back to doing it the way we've always done it before.” When I made the presentation of these audit results to the Air Canada executive, they were shocked and said, “We never said that.”
It wasn't a matter of what they had said; it was a matter of what they didn't say.
I think the unfortunate part about our relationship with Air Canada and Air Canada's view of official languages is that they continue to view this as a burden rather than as a value. I think there are all kinds of ways in which Air Canada could embrace official languages and view it as a source of pride, as a marketing tool, and as a key to their identity, but for whatever bundle of reasons, they tend to resist that and are resentful of those responsibilities that were part of the agreement of sale. They feel that they are saddled with this burden only because the agreement of sale wasn't negotiated properly 30 years ago, and if it had only been negotiated properly, they wouldn't have to do this stuff.
I think this is particularly unfortunate when you fly internationally and see how linguistically proficient other airlines are in serving their passengers. I spoke to somebody in Barcelona who told me that he had taken a flight from Barcelona to Miami and there was on-board service in Catalan.
Other airlines see their ability to serve their passengers in their language of choice as a value rather than as a burden, and I think it's unfortunate that Air Canada is as resistant as it is to our attempts to help them achieve their obligations under the act.